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Lions and tigers and bears -- at home?

What does it cost to own exotic animals -- and is it worth it?

By MSN Money Partner Oct 20, 2011 6:55PM

This post comes from Giselle Smith at MSN Money.

 

What does it cost to own a grizzly bear, a wolf, a tiger?

 

Tuesday's exotic animal escape in Ohio has renewed calls for a crackdown on exotic pets and puts a spotlight on the practice of owning and breeding exotic animals. People are riled up on both sides of the issue.

 

If you want to purchase an exotic animal, you can probably find one.

 

The website BuyTigers.com, which bills itself as "the first real Tiger store online," offers a "Tiger Pack," including a 5-month-old female tiger, a guide, collar and three toys, for $13,400. 

 

While dangerous breeds such as tigers and wolves get the lion's share of attention when the practice of owning and breeding exotic animals is discussed, most of the hundreds of animals listed for sale on Exoticanimalsforsale.net are less likely to kill or maim their owners: hedgehogs, monkeys, kangaroos, foxes, camels, and a giraffe.

 

The website offers this caveat for shoppers:

There are many types of exotic animals for sale in the United States. You will have to research the species you are thinking about to see if it is the right one for you. … Do not choose to get one because it is something interesting to talk about at work, or it is unique and will make people wish they had one also. These are bad reasons to buy one and the exotic animals end up in sanctuaries or released into the wild.

The site also cautions would-be owners to make sure their city or state allows such animals as pets, and encourages them to make sure a local veterinarian can treat their desired species.

Many companies that sell exotic animals list their clients as zoos, aquariums, educational facilities, and entertainment venues, but also sell to private parties. CJG Exotics, in Florida, states:

If you are looking for something special, please inquire. If it is legal and available in the U.S., it's very likely we can find it for you if not currently in our breeding programs.

You can, but should you?

But whether you should buy an exotic animal is another question entirely. Post continues after video.

On its website, Big Cat Rescue, a Florida-based nonprofit sanctuary for abused and abandoned big cats, offers a list of killings, maulings and escapes by big cats, and adds:

The following is a partial listing (616) of incidents in the U.S. involving captive exotic cats since 1990. The U.S. incidents have resulted in the deaths of 21 humans, 16 adults and 5 children, the additional mauling of 203 more adults and children, 226 escapes, the killing of 129 big cats, and 127 confiscations. There have also been 211 big cat incidents outside the U.S. that have resulted in the deaths of 72 humans and the mauling of 112 humans by captive big cats.

Instead of getting a wild cat or bear, perhaps you could settle for an aardvark ($5,500 on Exoticanimalsforsale.net), zebra ($3,500 to $5,000), a baby marmoset ($1,500), two-toed sloth ($2,400 through CJG Exotics), or a baby skunk ($350 at A+ Exotics). Chances are, you'd still be the first person on the block to own any of those.

 

Still set on owning a big cat?

The Feline Conservation Federation, a nonprofit organization committed to conserving wild felines through preservation, education and research, offers a handy U.S. map with information on current laws by state, and information on how to contact local agencies.

 

While acquiring a lion or tiger is not as difficult as you might think, the costs -- in the states where owning big cats is legal -- extend well beyond acquisition and feeding. Most states have specific requirements for caging (though rescue groups say the minimum sizes are inhumane), insurance, and permitting, though the latter is not prohibitive.

 

In Montana, for example, private possession of up to 10 wild felines or bears is allowed with a valid permit for a "wild animal menagerie." The annual permit is only $10 for up to four animals (or $25 for up to 10).

 

Big Cat Rescue offers this summary on the cost of keeping a wild cat, noting that rules vary by state, as do property costs (some states require at least 5 acres for big cats):

You can expect to invest almost $22,000 your first year into owning a small to mid-size wild cat, and your annual expenses will cost you around $2,300. If you want the big cat experience, the set up cost is over $94,000 and the annual care is over $8,000 IF you have no emergencies and no one gets hurt and sues you for millions of dollars.

Number of animals in private hands

The Feline Conservation Federation estimates that the total private-sector large-cat population nationwide is between 5,000 and 7,000 tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars and cougars. Some experts put the number higher, positing that there might be 6,000 tigers in the hands of private owners, says USA Today.

 

Animal rights activists have speculated that Texans alone own thousands of pet tigers, but Feline Conservation Federation executive director Lynn Culver said her organization determined that the state has just 312 tigers in 47 locations, most of them zoos and sanctuaries.

 

It's difficult to know exactly how many big cats belong to private owners because tigers born outside Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos are considered "generic" and are thus exempt from the list of species that must be registered under captive-bred wildlife regulations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a new rule that would remove this exemption and is accepting comments on the proposed rule through Oct. 21.

 

What you can do

Given the risks and responsibilities of owning a wild animal, perhaps the wisest choice is to "adopt" a wild cat through an organization such as Tiger Haven, where your $53 annual fee will help feed and care for a great cat at its no-kill shelter. It takes in tigers given up by private owners who realized -- too late-- that they couldn't handle them.

 

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